Midwifery - Later Historical Perspective

Later Historical Perspective

In the 18th century, a division between surgeons and midwives arose, as medical men began to assert that their modern scientific processes were better for mothers and infants than the folk-medical midwives. Whether this was a valid claim or not can be seen in the entry for Justine Siegemund, a renowned seventeenth century German midwife, whose Court Midwife (1690) was the first female-authored German medical text.

At the outset of the 18th century in England, most babies were caught by a midwife, but by the onset of the 19th century, the majority of those babies born to persons of means had a surgeon involved. A number of excellent full length studies of this historical shift have been written.

German social scientists Gunnar Heinsohn and Otto Steiger have put forward the theory that midwifery became a target of persecution and repression by public authorities because midwives not only possessed highly specialized knowledge and skills regarding assisting birth, but also regarding contraception and abortion.[10] According to Heinsohn and Steiger's theory, the modern state persecuted the midwives as witches in an effort to repopulate the European continent which had suffered severe loss of manpower as a result of the bubonic plague (also known as the black death) which had swept over the continent in waves, starting in 1348.

They thus interpret the witch hunts as attacking midwifery and knowledge about birth control with a demographic goal in mind. Indeed, after the witch hunts, the number of children per mother rose sharply, giving rise to what has been called the "European population explosion" of modern times, producing an enormous youth bulge that enabled Europe to colonize large parts of the rest of the world. 

While historians specializing in the history of the witch hunts have generally remained critical of this macroeconomic approach and continue to favor micro level perspectives and explanations, prominent historian of birth control John M. Riddle has expressed agreement. 

Midwifery in the United Kingdom Midwives are practitioners in their own right in the United Kingdom, and take responsibility for the antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care of women, up until 28 days after the birth, or as required thereafter. Midwives are the lead health care professional attending the majority of births, mostly in a hospital setting, although home birth is a perfectly safe option for many births. There are a variety of routes to qualifying as a midwife. Most midwives now qualify via a direct entry course, which refers to a three- or four-year course undertaken at university that leads to either a degree or a diploma of higher education in midwifery and entitles them to apply for admission to the register. Following completion of nurse training, a nurse may become a registered midwife by completing an eighteen-month post-registration course (leading to a degree qualification), however this route is only available to adult branch nurses, and any child, mental health, or learning disability branch nurse must complete the full three-year course to qualify as a midwife. Midwifery students do not pay tuition fees and are eligible for financial support for living costs while training. Funding varies slightly depending on which country within the UK the student is in and whether the course they are on is a degree or diploma course. Midwifery degrees are paid for by the NHS and some students may also be eligible for NHS bursaries. http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/Default.aspx?Id=1946

All practicing midwives must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and also must have a Supervisor of Midwives through their local supervising authority. Most midwives work within the National Health Service, providing both hospital and community care, but a significant proportion work independently, providing total care for their clients within a community setting. However, recent government proposals to require insurance for all health professionals is threatening independent midwifery in England.

Midwives are at all times responsible for the woman for whom they are caring, to know when to refer complications to medical staff, to act as the woman's advocate, and to ensure the mother retains choice and control over her childbirth experience. Many midwives are opposed to the so-called "medicalisation" of childbirth, preferring a more normal and natural option, to ensure a more satisfactory outcome for mother and baby.

Midwifery in Canada This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources (ideally, using inline citations). Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (August 2007) Midwifery was reintroduced as a regulated profession in Canada in the 1990s.[16] After several decades of intensive political lobbying by midwives and consumers, fully integrated and regulated midwifery is now part of the health system in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, and in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Alberta will publicly fund midwifery as of April 1, 2009. Midwifery legislation has recently been proclaimed in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and governments are in the process of integrating midwifery services there. Only Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador do not have legislation in place for the practice of midwifery.

Midwives in Canada come from a variety of backgrounds including: aboriginal, post nursing certification, direct-entry and "lay" or traditional midwifery. However, after a process of assessment by the provincial regulatory bodies, registrants are all simply known as 'midwives', 'registered midwives' or 'sage femme' regardless of their route of training. From the original 'alternative' style of midwifery in the 1960s and 1970s, midwifery practice has become somewhat standardized in all of the regulated provinces: midwives offer continuity of care within small group practices, choice of birthplace, and a focus on the woman as the primary decision-maker in her maternity care. When women experience deviations from normal in their pregnancies, midwives consult with other health care professionals. The women's care may continue with the midwife, in collaboration with an obstetrician or other health care specialist; her care may be transferred to an obstetrician or other health care specialist, temporarily or for the remainder of her pregnancy and birth. Founding principles of the Canadian model of midwifery include informed choice, choice of birth setting, continuity of care from a small group of midwives and respect for the woman as the primary decision maker.

Four provinces offer a four year university baccalaureate degree in midwifery. In British Columbia, the program is offered at the University of British Columbia.[17] In Ontario, the Midwifery Education Program is offered by a consortium of McMaster University, Ryerson University and Laurentian University. In Manitoba the program is offered by University College of the North, which offers the only degree program exclusively for aboriginal students; combining education in western and traditional aboriginal midwifery. In Quebec, the programme is offered at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. In northern Quebec and Nunavut, Inuit women are being educated to be midwives in their own communities. A Bridging program for internationally educated midwives is in place in Ontario at Ryerson University. A federally funded ["Multi-jurisdictional Midwifery Bridging Program"] [3] is offered in Western Canada. Regulated provinces and territories admit internationally educated midwives to their regulatory body if they can demonstrate competency through a Prior Learning and Experience Assessment (PLEA) process.

The legislation of midwifery has brought midwives into the mainstream of health care with universal funding for services , hospital privileges, rights to prescribe medications commonly needed during pregnancy, birth and postpartum, and rights to order blood work and ultrasounds for their own clients and full consultation access to physicians. To protect the tenets of midwifery and support midwives to provide woman-centered care, the regulatory bodies and professional associations have legislation and standards in place to provide protection, particularly for choice of birth place (see home birth), informed choice and continuity of care. All regulated midwives have malpractice insurance. Any unregulated person who provides care with 'restricted acts' in regulated provinces or territories is practicing midwifery without a license and is subject to investigation and prosecution.

Prior to legislative changes, very few Canadian women had access to midwifery care (in part because it was not funded by the health care system). Legislating midwifery has made midwifery services available to a wide and diverse population of women and in many communities midwives cannot meet the growing demand. Midwifery services are free to women living in midwifery regulated provinces.

Midwifery in New Zealand Midwifery regained its status as an autonomous profession in New Zealand in 1990. The Nurses Amendment Act restored the professional and legal separation of midwifery from nursing, and established midwifery and nursing as separate and distinct professions. Nearly all midwives gaining registration now are direct entry midwives who have not undertaken any nursing training. Registration requires a Bachelor of Midwifery degree. this is currently a three year full time programme but is in the process of being reviewed by the New Zealand midwifery regulatory authority.. Women must choose one of a midwife, a General Practitioner or an Obstetrician to provide their maternity care. About 78 percent choose a midwife (8 percent GP, 8 percent Obstetrician, 6 percent unknown.). Midwives provide maternity care from early pregnancy to 6 weeks postpartum. The midwifery scope of practise covers normal pregnancy and birth. The midwife will either consult or transfer care where there is a departure from normal. Antenatal and postnatal care is normally provided in the woman’s home. Birth can be in the home, a primary birthing unit, or a hospital. Midwifery care is fully funded by the Government. (GP care may be fully funded. Obstetric care will incur a fee in addition to the government funding.)

Modern Midwifery
Midwifery in the United States

There are two main divisions of modern midwifery in the United States: nurse-midwives and direct-entry midwives.

Nurse-midwives were introduced in the United States in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge for use in the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). Mrs. Breckinridge chose the nurse-midwifery model used in England and Scotland because she expected these nurse-midwives on horseback to serve the health care needs of the families living in the remote hills of eastern Kentucky. This combination of nurse and midwife was very successful. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company studied the first seven years of the FNS, and reported a substantially lower maternal and infant mortality rate than for the rest of the country. The report concluded that if this type of care was available to other women in the USA thousands of lives would be saved, and suggested nurse-midwife training should be done in the USA. Mrs. Breckinridge opened the Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery in 1939 the first nurse-midwifery education program in the USA. The Frontier School is still educating nurse-midwives today but in a new way. In 1989 the program became the first distance option for nurses to become nurse-midwives without leaving their home communities. The students do their academic work on-line with the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing faculty members and they do their clinical practice with a nurse-midwife in their community who is credentialed by Frontier as a clinical faculty member. This community based model has graduated over 1200 nurse-midwives. http://www.frontierschool.edu/. The Midwifery Program of Philadelphia University established the first Masters in Midwifery degree in the United States beginning the first class in May, 1997 http://www.philau.edu/midwifery. In the United States, nurse-midwives are variably licensed depending on the state as advanced practice nurses, midwives or nurse-midwives. Certified Nurse-Midwives are educated in both nursing and midwifery and provide gynecological and midwifery care of relatively healthy women. In addition to licensure, many nurse-midwives have a master's degree in nursing, public health, or midwifery. Nurse-midwives practice in hospitals, medical clinics and private offices and may deliver babies in hospitals, birth centers and at home. They are able to prescribe medications in all 50 states. Nurse-midwives provide care to women from puberty through menopause. Nurse-midwives may work closely with obstetricians, who provide consultation and assistance to patients who develop complications. Often, women with high risk pregnancies can receive the benefits of midwifery care from a nurse-midwife in collaboration with a physician. Currently, 2% of nurse-midwives are men. The American College of Nurse-Midwives accredits nurse-midwifery/midwifery education programs and serves as the national professional society for the nation's certified nurse-midwives and certified midwives. Upon graduation from these programs, graduates sit for a certification exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board. At present approximately 5500 Certified Nurse-Midwives are practicing in the U.S.
Direct-Entry Midwives

A direct-entry midwife is educated in the discipline of midwifery in a program or path that does not also require her to become educated as a nurse. Direct-entry midwives learn midwifery through self-study, apprenticeship, a midwifery school, or a college- or university-based program distinct from the discipline of nursing. A direct-entry midwife is trained to provide the Midwives Model of Care to healthy women and newborns throughout the childbearing cycle primarily in out-of-hospital settings.

Under the umbrella of "direct-entry midwife" are several types of midwives:

A Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) is a knowledgeable, skilled and professional independent midwifery practitioner who has met the standards for certification set by the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) and is qualified to provide the midwives model of care. The CPM is the only US credential that requires knowledge about and experience in out-of-hospital settings. At present, there are approximately 900 CPMs practicing in the US.

A Licensed Midwife is a midwife who is licensed to practice in a particular state. Currently, licensure for direct-entry midwives is available in 24 states.

The term "Lay Midwife" has been used to designate an uncertified or unlicensed midwife who was educated through informal routes such as self-study or apprenticeship rather than through a formal program. This term does not necessarily mean a low level of education, just that the midwife either chose not to become certified or licensed, or there was no certification available for her type of education (as was the fact before the Certified Professional Midwife credential was available). Other similar terms to describe uncertified or unlicensed midwives are traditional midwife, traditional birth attendant, granny midwife and independent midwife.[citation needed]

The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) also provides accreditation to non-nurse midwife programs, as well as colleges that graduate nurse-midwives. This credential, called the Certified Midwife, is currently recognized in only three states (New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island). All CMs must pass the same certifying exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board for CNMs. At present, there are approximately 50 CMs practicing in the US.[citation needed]

The North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) is a certification agency whose mission is to establish and administer certification for the credential "Certified Professional Midwife" (CPM). CPM certification validates entry-level knowledge, skills, and experience vital to responsible midwifery practice. This certification process encompasses multiple educational routes of entry including apprenticeship, self-study, private midwifery schools, college- and university-based midwifery programs, and nurse-midwifery. Created in 1987 by the Midwives' Alliance of North America (MANA), NARM is committed to identifying standards and practices that reflect the excellence and diversity of the independent midwifery community in order to set the standard for North American midwifery.
Practice in the United States

Midwives work with women and their families in any number of settings. While the majority of nurse-midwives work in hospitals, some nurse-midwives and many non-nurse-midwives work within the community or home. In many states, midwives form birthing centers where a group of midwives work together. Midwives generally support and encourage natural childbirth in all practice settings. Laws regarding who can practice midwifery and in what circumstances vary from state to state, and some midwives practice outside of the law.

Missouri Controversy

Direct entry midwifery (those midwives who are not registered as a certified nurse midwife) is unlawful in Missouri and practicing without a CNM license is a felony. However, on 26 May 2007 the Missouri Legislature passed a bill which provides tax incentives for those who purchase their own insurance in order to increase private health coverage for the uninsured. Attached to this legislation was a one sentence provision added by Sen. John Loudon which effectively legalizes certain direct entry midwifery. Although such measures had previously been rejected by the legislature, Loudon was able to attach the provision undetected by use of the word tocology (word of Greek origin that means the practice of obstetrics and childbirth) rather than any reference to midwifery. Despite protests from some members of the legislature, Gov. Matt Blunt signed the bill into law. A circuit judge issued a temporary restraining order on 3 July 2007 barring the implementation of the law, which was to take effect on 28 August 2007.[13] Following a 2 August 2007 hearing, the judge ruled the midwifery law illegal. A Columbia, Missouri-based midwives association plans to appeal the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Midwife Training

Midwifery training is considered one of the most challenging and competitive courses amongst other healthcare subjects. Most midwives undergo a 32 month vocational training program, or an 18 month nurse conversion course (on top of the 32 month nurse training course). Thus midwives potentially could have had up to 5 years of total training.

Midwives may train to be community Health Visitors (as may Nurses).
Community Midwives

Many midwives also work in the community. The roles of community midwives include the initial appointments of pregnant women, running clinics, postnatal checks in the home, and attending home births. 
Midwifery Organizations


MIDIRS (Midwives Information and Resource Service)
International Confederation of Midwives
International Alliance of Midwives
Asociación de Matronas Latinoamericanas (AMALA) (Spanish)


Australian College of Midwives


    Canadian Association of Midwives
    Midwifery Regulators Consortium
    College of Midwives of Ontario (Canada)
    Association of Ontario Midwives (Canada)

New Zealand:

    New Zealand College of Midwives
    Midwifery Council of New Zealand

United Kingdom:

    MIDIRS (Midwives Information and Resource Service)
    Nursing and Midwifery Council - overseers of UK midwifery, by mandate of Parliament
    Royal College of Midwives
    Student Midwife Support Network
    Association of Radical Midwives

United States:

    American College of Nurse-Midwives
    Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA)
    Midwifery Education Accreditation Council
    National Association of Certified    
     Professional Midwives
    The North American Registry of Midwives -        Certification agency for direct-entry